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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom…

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1967)

by Tom Stoppard

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
5,45257794 (4.21)130
  1. 61
    Hamlet by William Shakespeare (guyalice, kxlly)
    guyalice: Reasons should be obvious
  2. 40
    Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett (guyalice)
    guyalice: Stoppard's play's been called "Waiting for Hamlet," as both are existentialist plays featuring a pair of clueless (yet tragic) idiots.
  3. 20
    The Reduced Shakespeare Co. presentsThe Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr by William Shakespeare (meggyweg)

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» See also 130 mentions

English (56)  French (1)  All languages (57)
Showing 1-5 of 56 (next | show all)
This play is brilliant and I'm sure it deserves 5 stars. My only reason for knocking it down half a star is that you really can't read it in a vacuum. You have to have some knowledge of Hamlet for it to work.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Hamlet's two childhood friends. This play is written about the time that they are off-stage in the play. Not the time the actors playing these parts are off-stage but the times that the characters are off-stage. Essentially, at those times they have no purpose because the playwright hasn't given them anything to do. This is their search to figure out who they are when there is no script. It's like looking at the back of a piece of tapestry. What matters is what's on the front and everything on the back is just a jumble of seeming meaninglessness.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern aren't even sure who they are when they have no scripted parts. When their parts are on, they speak in brilliant Elizabethan English. When they are off, they struggle to figure out what's going on in the world and the dialogue can get confusing, deliberately so. It's very funny and quite clever. It deals with issues of reality and identity. I don't usually enjoy modernist literature but this is one of my favorite British dramas I've ever read.

If you were to read this cold, with no background, you'd probably give it up like I did years ago when I first had the book. I couldn't make heads or tails of it but with the right bit of knowledge going into it, it's just really fun and thought provoking. Tom Stoppard himself put out a movie version that's available on Youtube with Gary Oldman as Rosencrantz. It doesn't follow the play in every detail but it is great fun to watch. ( )
  Mrsbaty | Apr 16, 2015 |
Absolutely one of my all-time favorite plays. Ridiculously funny and well-crafted. Tom Stoppard has written pure gold here.

What happens to two minor characters when they aren't on stage? That's what Stoppard tries to determine with Hamlet's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two characters so underdeveloped within the play (because they don't need to be) that they're not even sure which is which. This leads to a deep, but incredibly humorous, philosophical look at what it means to be an actor on the stage, and in life itself.

Completely brilliant! ( )
  regularguy5mb | Nov 2, 2014 |
A first year university English text. ( )
  LynleyS | Oct 25, 2014 |
A play filled with the most cunning and witty English humor I've read in a while. Stoppard delves into the existence of one-scene characters in Shakespeare's work, who are only developed enough to further the plot. His brilliantly written work left me thinking as well as laughing. Definitely worth a read. ( )
  Rosenstern | Sep 14, 2014 |
Tom Stoppard has been writing plays for more than a half century. Some that I have had the opportunity to read or see in performance include Arcadia, Travesties, The Invention of Love, Night and Day, and his great trilogy The Coast of Utopia. But before all of these he burst onto the world theater scene with a dramatic masterpiece titled Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Both a tragicomedy and a parody of sorts, it focuses on the two courtiers, Ros & Guil (for short), whose existence we owe to William Shakespeare and his tragedy Hamlet. Stoppard's play exists behind the scenes of Shakespeare's play as we follow the two courtiers on their predicted way to death.

As the play opens we meet Ros and Guil in "a place without any visible character". Guil is tossing coins and Ros is calling heads, which is unusual only in that the coin keeps coming up heads and apparently has been for some time. This leads them to a brief discussion of the law averages and the law of diminishing returns. One wonders, they wonder, about the nature of reality and time. Has it "stopped dead"? Can they remember what just happened not too long ago. Guil asks:

"'What is the fist thing after all the things you've forgotten?'
Ros: Oh I see. (Pause.) I've forgotten the question.
Guil: Are you happy?
Ros: What?
Guil: Content? At ease?
Ros: I suppose so." (p 16-17)

Guil speculates that they must be operating under supernatural forces and proceeds to provide a lengthy scientific commentary that is as much designed to ward off fear as it is to convince Ros of Guil's point. But instead of reassuring Ros it leads into a discussion of death and what it is like to be dead. Guil's reassurance to Ros: "But you are not dead." is lost among their speculations. Their tenuous connection with reality is quickly established and with the imminent entrance of a group of theatrical players, "The Tragedians", this theme will be expanded through metaphor and wordplay to the point that the whole play appears as a dream, or more likely a nightmare ending in death.

The nature of their existence as characters reminds one of Godot's Vladimir and Estragon. Indeed, the absurdity of their condition and even some of their dialogue demands such comparison. Stoppard’s play goes beyond the hopelessness of Vladimir and Estragon’s absurd condition and provides much more comic entertainment. The two are shown whiling away their time on the fringes of the “major play”, whose echoes they are eager to absorb but whose significance remains enigmatic. Hence, despite all their efforts to “act”, when the crucial moment comes and it rests upon them to warn Hamlet, they fail. They thus fall short of having the text “rewritten” in their favor, and prepare their own untimely, yet (inter)textually predestined, deaths.
The theme of appearance versus reality is sustained by a profound metadramatic discussion on art versus real life. This begins with the entrance of the Tragedians and their playful invitation for Ros and Guil to be not only spectators but, if they are willing to pay a slightly higher price, participants in the performance of a tragedy--performed for their sole benefit. While they do not join the players the question of appearance versus reality which was suggested even earlier continues to vex the two courtiers. Throughout the play their are comic moments, usually redounding from word play. One moment was reminiscent of an Abbot and Costello routine with Ros and Guil going back and forth with confusion over "what" and "why" (p 68).

The play’s enormous theatricality is afforded by the playful handling of Hamlet as well as the abundant use of (comic) reasoning. We even find Guil mimicking Hamlet with the comment, "Words, words. They're all we have to go on."(p 41) But one wonders what value the words are when the existence of the characters is as fragile as it seems in this play. By foregrounding epistemological uncertainty as ethically relevant, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead announces one of the abiding preoccupations of Stoppard's own future writing. It also entertains the happy reader with a delightfully intellectually stimulating play. ( )
3 vote jwhenderson | Jul 4, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 56 (next | show all)
This is a most remarkable play. Very funny. Very brilliant. Very chilling.
added by keeper3014 | editThe New York Times
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead [is] verbally dazzling...the most exciting, witty intellectual treat imaginable.
added by keeper3014 | editThe New Yorker, Edith Oliver

» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Tom Stoppardprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Popkin, HenryEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Two ELIZABETHANS passing the time in a place without any visible character.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0802132758, Paperback)

Acclaimed as a modern dramatic masterpiece, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead is the fabulously inventive tale of Hamlet as told from the worm’s-eye view of the bewildered Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two minor characters in Shakespeare’s play. In Tom Stoppard’s best-known work, this Shakespearean Laurel and Hardy finally get a chance to take the lead role, but do so in a world where echoes of Waiting for Godot resound, where reality and illusion intermix, and where fate leads our two heroes to a tragic but inevitable end.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:35:39 -0400)

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Two minor characters from "Hamlet" offer a novel view of the melancholy Dane.

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